Looking to rebound from an unexpected loss last week, Iowa took on Minnesota Saturday at Kinnick Stadium in the Big Ten opener for both teams. With a solid all-around team effort, the Hawkeyes (3-2, 1-0) were able to subdue the Gophers (4-1, 0-1) and reclaim Floyd of Rosedale with a 31-13 victory. Let's take a look back and grade Iowa's performance.
It wasn't always pretty, but James Vandenberg got the job done against the Gophers. The day started out well enough when he connected on a 45-yard pass on Iowa's first possession, helping to set up a field goal to give Iowa an early lead. Despite the quick start, however, Vandenberg showed the same problems he has been struggling with this season. Many of his passes were well off the mark and he starts to hurry when he feels a little pressure. He also has trouble progressing through his reads, often settling on one receiver even when others are open elsewhere.
This isn't to say that Vandenberg has played poorly this season, because he hasn't and his struggles aren't tied to him alone. The slow start is just a bit of a head-scratcher to many following his strong junior campaign. Overall, Vandenberg was 18 of 31 for 192 yards and a touchdown. He also ran twice for five yards, including a 1-yard keeper for a TD in the second quarter. Grade: C
Is it safe for people to stop calling it a fluke yet? Mark Weisman continued to add to his growing legend with another dominating performance on Saturday. The sophomore walk-on once again powered his way through an opposing defense, as he bullied his way to a game-high 177 yards and a TD on just 21 carries. Weisman also caught three passes for 12 yards. The rushing numbers could have been even higher, but with Iowa attempting to get the passing game going, he received just five carries for 22 yards in the second half. In addition to his usual bruising style, Weisman continues to show good vision and a quick burst, as he is able to attack the hole and get to the second level of the defense before it collapses.
Greg Garmon saw limited duty in his return from an elbow injury suffered against UNI. The true freshman came on to give Weisman a breather a few times and finished with one carry for 3 yards and also caught a pass for 3 yards. Grade: A+
Wide Receiver/Tight End
It was a strong showing from the receivers against Minnesota. While they may not have put up big numbers, they made some nice catches, were able to get separation on their routes and also provided solid blocking in the run game. Weisman was able to extend several runs thanks to blocking downfield by the receivers.
Keenan Davis led the group with six receptions for 50 yards, including one reception in which he made two defenders miss in the open field, turning a short gain into a 20-yard reception. Jordan Cotton caught his first touchdown at Iowa on a 47-yard reception off a flea flicker and finished with two receptions for 44 yards. C.J. Fiedorowicz caught two passes for 50 yards, Kevonte Martin-Manly had two receptions for 14 yards and Ray Hamilton hauled in one pass for 20 yards. Grade: B
The offensive line has gotten better and better as the season has progressed. They have helped to pave the way for Weisman's breakout by some big running lanes. The O-line has also rebounded from a shaky season-opening victory to provide good protection for Vandenberg, as it has yet to allow another sack to an opposing defense. The guys up front have constantly been winning the battle in the trenches and have turned into the offensive strength that everyone had them pegged as before the season started. Grade: A+
Overall Offensive Grade: B+
A first half in which Iowa racked up 328 yards of offense gave the Hawkeyes a 24-point cushion, and though they struggled in the second half, it was a positive outing overall. The running game once again racked up yards behind Weisman and the offensive line, while the receivers continued their stead improvement. The passing game struggled a bit and Iowa essentially went to the air the entire second half in an effort to work out the kinks.
The defensive line rebounded from a less than stellar outing last week to help bottle up the Minnesota offense. While they didn't always get pressure on Gopher quarterback Max Shortell, they did enough to make him work and force some throws. Iowa also did well against the run, holding Minnesota to 102 yards rushing. The total would have been under 100 yards were it not for a long touchdown drive in garbage time.
Louis Trinca-Pasat led the group with seven tackles, while Darian Cooper finished with five. Steve Bigach, Dominic Alvis and Joe Gaglione had three stops apiece, with Bigach adding a forced fumble. Riley McMinn rounded out the group with two tackles. Grade: B+
After a so-so performance a week ago, the linebackers really stepped up against the Gophers. They were strong against the run, clogging the rushing lanes and tackling well to prevent extra yards. They also did a good job in coverage, helping to hold Minnesota to under 200 yards through the air.
Anthony Hitchens once again paced the defense with 12 tackles, including a sack. James Morris wasn't far behind with 10 stops and a sack of his own. Christian Kirksey may have only had five tackles but he also added a fumble recovery and an impressive interception that he returned 68 yards for a touchdown. Grade: A
Like the rest of the defense, the DBs played much better following the struggles against Central Michigan. The tackling was better, the coverage was improved and the communication seemed much better. However, despite forcing two turnovers and keeping Minnesota in check for most of the game, there were still some blown coverages that could have hurt Iowa had Shortell thrown an accurate pass. That said, it was a solid showing and an improvement from a week ago.
With B.J. Lowery out with an ankle injury, Greg Castillo earned the start and finished with seven tackles and his first career interception. Micah Hyde and Tom Donatell had six stops apiece, while Tanner Miller added four to go along with and interception. Grade: B+
Overall Defensive Grade: A
The defense bounced back from a disappointing showing last week to hold Minnesota to 13 points and 299 yards of total offense. Even those numbers are a little skewed in Minnesota's favor as the Gophers picked up six points and 80 yards on a meaningless drive at the end of the game.
It wouldn't have taken much to improve on the debacle last week, but the Iowa special teams played quite well against Minnesota. Mike Meyer continued his strong play this season, as he drilled a 44-yard field goal on the opening drive to give the Hawkeyes a lead they would not relinquish. Meyer also booted three kickoffs for touchbacks. The kick and punt coverage teams were much improved and Hyde just missed breaking loose on a punt return, getting tripped up by the Gopher punter after returning it for 27 yards. Connor Kornbrath and John Wienke split punting duties and combined to place three inside the 20-yard line. Grade: B+
Overall Grade: B+
This was easily Iowa's best all-around performance of the season. The offense was able to move the ball and put points on the board, the defense help the opposition in check and the special teams avoided the kind of mistakes it had been making earlier in the season. The only real negative would be the struggles on offense, specifically in the passing game, in the second half.
Stat of the Game: +4
Iowa has shown good ball security so far this season and that continued on Saturday. The Hawkeyes forced four Minnesota turnovers (3 interceptions, 1 fumble) while not allowing any of their own. The four takeaways improved Iowa's turnover margin to +7 this season, putting the Hawkeyes in a tie for 14th place in FBS.
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